What Have We Done to Deserve ‘Sexy Beasts’?

·3 min read
Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

Sexy Beasts, Netflix’s furry-adjacent dating show, dares to ask its subjects the tough questions. “Could you fall in love with someone based on personality alone?” Catastrophe star and series narrator Rob Delaney asks. “And would you still feel that way when you see their real face?”

Moments later: “Meet Emma, a six-foot-tall model from New York who’s tired of guys only noticing the way she looks.” Who says dating shows can’t teach us about real struggles?

Each 30-minute episode slathers one subject and three suitors with elaborate makeup and prosthetics to mask their appearance. Pandas, rhinos, trolls, and insects swish drinks and embark on activities like archery. (They stop short of full costumes; it’s more of a “troll face, tulle blouse” situation.) After a date with each masked prospect, subjects eliminate one, gaze upon the reject’s face in a quick farewell, and then embark on one last date with each remaining choice before making a decision.

We have BBC Three to thank (blame?) for Sexy Beasts’ original premiere in 2014. A&E debuted its own version of “the strangest blind date ever” a year later, and now Netflix is giving it another round, still with original producers Lion Television.

I don’t begrudge a gaudy televised spectacle—I love The Masked Singer!—but Sexy Beasts is shallow in concept and creaky in execution. Its heavy production choices—obtrusive narration, rigid structure, inorganic set-ups—feel especially dated.

Sexy Beasts still bears the hallmarks of its cable upbringing—production choices and genre conventions that Netflix itself has helped to make passé. Consider Dating Around, which debuted in 2019 with a lower-key approach as subjects went on dates around New York. Even Love Is Blind, a more manipulative format, offered a unique vantage point into how people form emotional connections through conversation.

But more sinful is this show’s apparent refusal to do anything remotely interesting with its concept. Its mind-numbing repetition of the same punchline—people in funny costumes getting pedicures and, when they’re lucky, struggling to get their prosthetic noses out of the way for a kiss—gives diminishing returns each time. Also: If Sexy Beasts is all about exploring the various kinds of connections people make on dates, why are all the fuzzy-faced daters we follow straight? And if this is really an exercise in connecting based on personality alone, why are all of these people so conventionally hot?

Viewers noticed the same hypocrisy in Love Is Blind. Like Sexy Beasts, the telephone-booth dating show claims to foster connections that go beyond the superficial while exclusively featuring people who could easily make thousands hocking laxative teas on Instagram.

It’s easier to imagine how Sexy Beasts would have fit in on A&E in 2015; one of the network’s long-running competition series is a special effects make-up and prosthetics showdown. But like most things, it will likely draw a lot more attention on Netflix; the expensive prosthetics and moments like a beaver saying “ass first, personality second” feel designed for virality in a post-Masked Singer world. Whether or not it should, however, remains a separate question.

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